In a letter to city officials and downtown stakeholders, Lipscomb said there have been "misunderstandings" and inaccurate accounts of the proposal that would use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to pay for improvements with future tax increases from higher property values.
The document is here in PDF form.
Perl announced his resignation as chairman and board member last month with four years remaining on his five-year term. The board chooses the chairman and is scheduled to meet on January 17th.
"I'm sure interested, but I have not talked to other board members," said Sammons, president of Ampro Industries. "I'm willing to serve."
The board's six members are Sammons, John Stokes Jr., Ruby Wharton, Jon Thompson, Jim Keras and Herb Hilliard. Sammons was appointed by former Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.
Sammons said he "lives in the air" a good part of his time and was leaving Thursday to fly to Miami for $1,248 round trip.
Sammons would bring political experience, close ties to FedEx chairman Fred Smith, and a plain-spoken style to the job. He has played pinch-hitter for the city before, serving as chief administrative officer for interim mayor Myron Lowery when Lowery succeeded Willie Herenton.
"One thing I know how to do is sell," he said.
He would also bring continuity, for better or worse, as the board deals with cutbacks in service and high fares from dominant passenger carrier Delta Air Lines. In an interview with The Flyer in 2011, Sammons said, "We have more air service on a per-capita basis than any city in America, and there is a price for that. The authority has been aggressive for a generation in chasing low-cost carriers. It brought in Frontier Airlines, but they didn't last because Northwest matched their fares. The potential game-changer is Southwest buying AirTran. That is going to change Memphis prices in 12 to 24 months."
But you can never let your guard down, even on Christmas. In fact, especially around Christmas, as I have learned from living here more than 25 years. Bad guys know you've got stuff and you're distracted. The year after we moved in a neighbor and her daughter were raped during a break-in. The couple across the street had all of the wheels stolen off their new car one night just before New Year's. A few years ago some I caught some dude breaking into my wife's paintermobile in the middle of the night. He was right under the porch light and just stood there looking at me in my underwear like I was the one who was out of line. I chased him down the driveway until he chunked a can of paint at me as I stood there cussing him, barefoot in the cold.
So yesterday afternoon a guy I don't know pulls into my driveway in a brand new white SUV. He's a young guy with two little kids in the back seat. He rolls down the window, hails me, apologizes for taking my time and asks me a favor. He lives just around the corner. The new car is a surprise for his wife. He's gone to some trouble to leave his other car in the parking area of the duplex next door to my house. The plan is to leave the new car there overnight so I can drive it to their house Christmas morning, put a big red bow with a magnet on the back on the hood, and leave the keys in a chair on the front porch.
He's come to the right place. I'm up for it. He and the kids thank me profusely. I take the key and carefully put it on the key hook in my house. And almost immediately I start worrying that some SOB will try to steal the car. So I take a late walk just before midnight. Everything is cool. I go to bed.
The next morning everything works as planned. He calls, I do my thing, and go hide to watch the wife and kids come out for the big surprise. It's perfect.
An hour later, while my family and I are opening presents, there's a knock on the door. It's our next door neighbor who lives in the duplex. He and his wife moved from Cordova last summer because they always wanted to live in Midtown.
"Did you happen to notice my car last night?" he asks. "The 2011 Nissan?"
Sure, right there next to the new SUV, I say.
"Well, it's not there now. Someone stole it."
No broken glass, no room for a tow truck, no unusual noise between midnight and 8 a.m. Just a couple of professional car thieves doing their thing, maybe with a master key from a dealer, who knows.
Two cars, two wives. One crying tears of joy, one crying tears of anger. A Midtown Christmas.
The plans are "fluid" and some things that were included in June are either out of the picture now or being reconsidered. There will be lodging of some sort inside the building, but the number of rooms (which has been described as "a hotel" and "cabins" in previous statements) is unknown.
The Bass Pro logo will adorn each of the four exterior faces of the building, but there will not be a band of glass around the middle as there was in a rendering displayed at a splashy ceremony with Morris, Mayor A C Wharton, and fishing pro Bill Dance in June. That was deemed too expensive. The fate of the observation deck has not been determined.
The opening is set for late 2013 in time for the holiday sales season. The building of the interior space will begin in February. There will be retail on two levels, as well as an indoor swamp with boat slips so prospective buyers of Tracker boats can see how they feel in the water. The total amount of space in use, including the swamp, is about 200,000 square feet. There will be one restaurant, Uncle Buck's Fish Bowl, and possibly a Starbucks or similar coffee shop. A bowling alley, nature exhibits, and zip lines through the trees are other features. Otherwise Bass Pro will be the only retailer insider the building.
The main entrance is on the south side, with a system of drives, trails, trees, man-made ponds and a stream leading to the doors. There will also be a single entrance on Front Street at street level roughly where there used to be two entrances in the Pyramid's earlier incarnation. Customer parking lots will be on the south side of the building. There will be no covered parking, only surface parking.
The city of Memphis will solicit a developer for the Pinch District from Front Street to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital after the opening.
"Not only could they shut the stadium down, they could hold the whole fairgrounds hostage" said Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb. He said that meant forcing the city to make everything at the fairgrounds ADA compliant, but he did not say what will be allowed to be out of compliance.
The 61,000-seat stadium, which is rarely even half full in recent years, added more wheelchair-accessible seats and companion seats a few years ago but not enough to satisfy the Justice Department. The letter of the law would be one percent accessible seating, or 620 seats and 620 companion seats, but the department typically settles for less. Lipscomb said the city bargained with Justice to lower the cost from $40 million to $12 million, which includes some non-seating expenses. A handout said the reduction was due to "new technology and alternate design solutions." There will be 564 ADA/companion seats. The maximum projected loss of seats is 2,000.
If the full council approves the expenditure as expected, construction will be done between January and August of 2013. Lipscomb said projected new taxes from a proposed Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) to include Cooper-Young and Overton Square would pay the bills. The council will be asked to vote on the TDZ on January 22, 2013. If approved, the city will apply to the state in February and expects to get approval in June. The vision is a youth sports complex.
Committee members asked few questions about the project. Some said they had a "moral obligation" to vote for the proposal. Three people in wheelchairs came to the meeting but did not speak. Interviewed after the meeting, they each said the current wheelchair-accessible seating is inadequate, but they also each said they do not go to games at the stadium.
"There are a lot of people who are not trying to come," said Louis Patrick. "This is one of those questions of if they build it will they come."
The book is about the 1962-63 Mississippi State team that defied segregationists and boarded a plane to East Lansing, Michigan to play Loyola of Chicago, which had several black players, in the NCAA Tournament. It's a good tale well told by Veazey, and arguably as important, as sporting events go, as the 1966 NCAA Final between all-white Kentucky and all-black Texas Western, subject of the 2006 movie "Glory Road."
Two things stand out in my memory of that season’s tournament.
First, the games were on the radio instead of television. This made the finals, which went into overtime, even more suspenseful, partly because the radio signal kept fading in and out and partly because announcer Red Rush (“It’s GOOD, good as Gonnella Bread”) was one of the all-time greats.
Second, the core of the Loyola team was two players from Nashville Pearl High School, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter. They were the “big men” on the team and on the floor, for that matter, although they were 6’7”, the size of forwards in high school these days. My first job was in Nashville, and one of my colleagues, Tarver Smith, had played on a Pearl team, no small feat for a man under six feet tall. There was a simple way of making cuts: If you couldn’t dunk you couldn’t play.
Loyola and Mississippi State were undersized by today’s standard, but not as much as the 1964 NCAA champion, UCLA, whose center, Keith Erickson, was only 6’5”. Even two years later, when Kentucky was in the finals against Texas Western, 6’4” Pat Riley jumped center for the Wildcats. The tipping point for big men came in 1967 when Kareem Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, started for UCLA.
Memphis fans have a chance to jump in on the nostalgia action. This is the 40th anniversary of the “Memphis State” team with Larry Finch and Larry Kenon that lost in the 1973 finals to Bill Walton and UCLA.
I look forward to replays of the 1963 and 1973 championship games in this boom year for college basketball nostalgia.
How strong is the urge to pop off on public controversies? Strong enough to get three federal prosecutors in hot water in New Orleans, where U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned this week, as the Times-Picayune reported.
This story should resonate in Memphis. Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission in the schools case tried (without success) to get The Commercial Appeal to divulge the names of anonymous commenters on 45 stories about the proposed merger and the federal court lawsuit. The newspaper called the subpoena "a virtually unprecedented assault upon its rights as a newspaper and as the host of an important community forum on its website, as well as upon the rights of the many users and commenters who participate in this forum."
In New Orleans, two federal prosecutors admitted posting anonymous comments, some of which were alleged to be defamatory, about a hot case.
I told a curious colleague that "nothing happened" at the meeting, but on second thought that is not exactly right. The fact that these people came to the meeting of an agency that fills its meeting room about as often as the 100-year flood is significant in itself.
Heritage Trail, previously called Triangle Noir, has been around for years. The target area is south of FedEx Forum, but the potential funding area is a much bigger chunk of downtown. Its author is Robert Lipscomb, head of the Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD) and executive director of the Memphis Housing Authority. Downtowners have learned to pay attention to anything that has his fingerprints on it.
As well they should. Many a grand plan starts out as a consultant's report loaded with jargon and details about monster economic impact and possible creative funding sources such as PILOTs and TIFs that mean little to the average person. They go to second-tier agencies such as the CRA for original endorsement, then to the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission. Depending on who wants to do the deal and how badly they want to do it, the proposal can suddenly move from the drawing board to the fast track. Then the argument will be made that so-and-so has already signed off on this, studies have been done, state and federal funds hang in the balance (or a small amount has already been appropriated as bait), and elected officials must act NOW.
At the meeting Thursday, the CRA board chairman, Michael Frick of Memphis Bank of America, repeatedly assured the small crowd of people opposed to Lipscomb's Heritage Trail plans that "this is still early in its development," that "the plan has not emerged from our committee yet" and "at the end of the day everything we do here has to approved by the City Council and County Commission."
"I hate for everybody to spend a lot of time on something that is not going to happen," he said, adding that a vote might not come until February.
If and when that happens, Heritage Trail is in for some tough sledding because downtowners have learned to pay attention and get involved early and often when something comes out of HCD.
For six home games, the Tigers drew a total of 67,181 fans. The announced attendance was 146,227. Under Coach Justin Fuente, who replaced the fired Larry Porter (still on the payroll), the team won four games, or one more than Porter's teams won in the previous two years. Total actual attendance for six home games in 2011 was 62,320.
The attendance for each game in 2012, provided by the city of Memphis at the request of the Flyer, follows:
UT Martin: 21,293
Central Florida: 10,509
Southern Miss: 8,398
The Southern Heritage Classic, played in September, drew a crowd of 24,643. The AutoZone Liberty Bowl this year features Tulsa and Iowa State. Last year's game between Cincinnati and Vanderbilt drew a crowd of 31,578.
Announced attendance, which is widely reported by pro and college teams and the media that follow them, is typically much higher than actual attendance because it includes tickets sold and distributed whether or not they are used.
Memphis is preparing to spend another $12 million on Liberty Bowl Stadium to accommodate federal dictates for seating for handicapped fans.
At the center of table sit superintendents Kriner Cash and John Aitken, total strangers four years ago. Nearby, county schools champion David Pickler sits next to MCS charter surrender leader Martavius Jones. As much as anyone, these two set the tone for frank but civil discussions in a series of debates and joint public appearances in 2010-2011.
The unified school system may or may not work, but the unified school board — by design and circumstance — has the most interesting seating chart in town. It may not lead to a world-class unified school system, but it has probably done as much consciousness raising as any public undertaking in recent history.
Other seatmates include Memphis firebrand Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr. and Germantown schools lion Ernest Chism; Dr. Snowden Carruthers of the old county board and Tomeka Hart, coauthor of the MCS charter surrender; and David Reaves, another suburbanite and one of the board's youngest members, and, a few seats away, Sara Lewis of Smokey City in North Memphis, one of the board's senior members. At various times during Thursday night's board meeting, they could be seen talking amiably and smiling and laughing together.
Not to attach too much significance to this or understate differences, but things could be worse. School board is the lowest-paying part-time public job, and probably the most demanding. Five-hour meetings are the norm. Members must have stamina as well as convictions. When the topic is closing schools, as it was Thursday, this is not a job for the faint of heart.
It is also old-school: the polar opposite of the Internet chat room or newspaper comment section. Anonymous online commenters of unknown expertise can post insults and opinions without ever having to face each other or the people they slam. Board members speak, opine, disagree, and vote in public, side by side, for all to see and hear, on issues that change people's lives.
Near the end of Thursday night's meeting on school closings in north and south Memphis, a somewhat exasperated Chism, former principal at Germantown High School, protested that he was elected to represent the people of Shelby County.
The spectators gave him a small ovation. Chism voted against the closings, as did Whalum on most of the votes.
Suhair's husband Jimmy Lauck, owner of the Little Tea Shop since 1982, died in July, and the restaurant was closed for several weeks after that. A holiday business boost would help make up for lost earnings, and there's an easy and tasty way to help.
With 48 hours notice, Suhair will cook your side dishes to go with the turkey, ham, or wild game main dish you might be serving. She suggests you bring your own serving plates and she'll arrange the veggies to fit them. If you're lucky and extra nice, there might even be some corn sticks in the bargain, but don't try to pass them off as your own creation — as if anyone would believe you.
Downtown, Memphis, the Memphis Tigers basketball team, and the Memphis Grizzlies have no better ambassador than Suhair Lauck. Good time to show the love.
The Flyer obtained a copy of a previously unpublicized memo from the Downtown Memphis Commission that was sent to board members and, by them, to other downtowners this month. It discusses a proposed Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) under the control of the Memphis Housing Authority and the Division of Housing and Community Development, currently headed by Robert Lipscomb. The City administration wants the input of stakeholders before the City moves forward with this plan. The focus is redeveloping Cleaborn and Foote Homes, housing projects in the southeastern part of downtown.
From the memo:
"The CRA is established “to combat slum and blighted areas that constitute a serious and growing menace, injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and welfare of the residents of Shelby County.” To provide CRA with jurisdiction to adopt and implement the Master Plan, the CRA is considering declaring Downtown Memphis to be a slum, blighted, and a growing menace."
The proposed master plan, a 196-page document dated September 13, 2012, includes the entire downtown core, the Beale Street Entertainment District, the South Main District, the South End, Victorian Village, the Edge Neighborhood, and part of the Memphis Medical Center. It targets some 200 downtown parcels for CRA acquisition by purchase or, if necessary, eminent domain. A master developer would be hired by the CRA.
From the memo:
"To begin funding implementation of the Master Plan, the CRA would establish a Downtown tax-increment-financing (TIF) District that would redirect future property tax revenue growth generated Downtown over the next twenty years from the city and county to the CRA. It is projected that over twenty years the TIF would redirect $102,751,238 of city and county property taxes to the CRA. The bulk of this revenue would be generated in the out years, with the first five years generating less than 1.5% of the projected revenue.
"It is projected that 98.7% of this future, incremental TIF revenue will be generated by private properties primarily in the Downtown core outside the Focus Area of the planned improvements. The Cleaborn and Foote Homes redevelopments are expected to generate 1.3% of the TIF revenue over twenty years. PILOT roll-offs are expected to generate 44.5% of the TIF revenue, and general property value inflation is projected to generate 47.5% of the TIF revenue."
The Master Plan includes 27 miles of streetscape improvements, 6 miles of new streets, and 17 acres of new parks. The TIF funds along with federal grant money would help support the public housing redevelopment in the southeastern section of Downtown, but the source of funding for improvements throughout the remainder of downtown is not identified, nor is a budget or schedule provided for such improvements.
An earlier plan in the Herenton mayoral era dubbed Triangle Noir focused on a much narrower area around Cleaborn and Foote Homes.
The memo asks several questions, including:
How will needed improvements in the rest of Downtown be paid for?
What happens to ongoing private development initiatives if the CRA officially adopt this new, largely unfunded Master Plan for Downtown?
What are the lost opportunity costs of borrowing against and spending twenty years of property tax growth in Downtown Memphis?
If the next twenty years of property tax growth in Downtown Memphis is pledged to pay for the public housing redevelopment project in the southeast corner of Downtown, then how do other important Downtown plans and projects get funded over the next twenty years?
First, there is plenty of will, as evidenced by the smashingly successful suburban referendums earlier this year. The strongest force in the universe is a parent determined to get his or her child into a good public school. The current Shelby County school system is essentially what the Memphis optional schools were a few decades ago: the public school option of choice for middle-class families and some affluent families.
The courtroom setback was a gimme for the Shelby County Commission and federal judge Samuel H. Mays. The 'burbs were sunk in the opening minutes of the trial in September when commission attorney Leo Bearman played the videotape of that legislative exchange about "Shelby County only." Attorneys for the defendants promptly objected, but the damage was done. The suburban champions were caught on tape and on Rep. G. A. Hardaway's clever hook. This was bad law, pure and simple. Mays let the defense team run on for a while about the rural county cover story, but the tape was devastating. Plain words mean what they say. His citation was the dictionary.
The pending segregation claim won't be so easy. Common sense and mathematics could doom it. There aren't enough white students in the public schools to integrate all of them. Ninety percent of Memphis public school students attend de-facto segregated schools. That won't change with unification. Most county schools have diverse student bodies. The exception is Southwind High School, with 12 white students in a student body of 1,653, and its feeder schools. That has the ingredients for an interesting segregation claim, but the federal appeals court has already overruled a Memphis federal court ruling that would have racially balanced the county schools.
The merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools is by all accounts unique in size and scale. It goes against the grain. The trend is smaller, fragmented school systems. I was surprised at just how small some big-city school systems are relative to Memphis. Nashville/Davidson County has 74,680 students. Atlanta has 59,000. Detroit has 51,674. New Orleans had 65,000 pre-Katrina and is a melting pot of charter schools and traditional schools today. St. Louis, taken over by the state five years ago and the subject of a glowing report in The Wall Street Journal this week, has just over 24,000 students.
Nashville, with the blessing of Mayor Karl Dean and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, is pushing for charter school expansion to the middle class over the opposition of the local school board. The state-run Achievement School District for failing schools is slated to grow in Memphis. The Republican-dominated state legislature is sympathetic to charters as are private donors such as the Gates Foundation. Vouchers have support. Most important, alternative schools have support from teachers and parents who are the ultimate deciders.
Finally, the dysfunctional unified school board with its core of MCS charter surrender proponents is its own worst enemy. The board, which meets Thursday, is likely to close only a handful of schools instead of the 21 closings recommended by the Transition Planning Commission. (There are 45 Memphis schools and 10 Shelby County schools with under 65 percent utilization, according to the TPC.) This will throw the budget out of whack, condemn the half-empty schools to failure or mediocrity, reduced course offerings, and limited extracurricular activities.
My sympathies and my treasure are with Memphis, but my gut tells me suburbs will get their own autonomous school systems within a few years and that this week's federal court ruling was a temporary setback. It is as inevitable as conference realignment in college sports.
"The legislative history of Public Chapter 905, taken as a whole and fairly considered, firmly establishes that Chapter 905 was designed to apply only to Shelby County," Mays wrote. "That design is not dispositive, but it supports the conclusion, derived from an examination of potentially comparable counties, that Chapter 905 applies to a particular county.
"One example among many occurred on April 27, 2012. When discussing House Bill 1105 (“HB 1105”), which became Chapter 905, two legislators explained why the bill that came from the Conference Committee differed from the bill in its original form:
Rep. Hardaway: [T]his is different from the original Bill in that it only, this is different from the original Bill in that it only pertains to Shelby County?
Rep. Montgomery: That is what it does. What they did here is by stating what I read there, if a municipality is located within a county in which a transition planning commission has been developed, and that is the only county in the State of Tennessee that has that, so it limits it to Shelby. You are right."
Mays wrote that "This and similar exchanges reinforce Chapter 905‟s limited application to Shelby County."
Before reaching the conclusion of his 65-page ruling, Mays established the "ripeness" of the issue.
"The contingencies of August 8, 2011, have become reality. Chapter 905 provides the procedural mechanism for creating municipal school districts . . . Withholding a determination until a later date would cause uncertainty about the validity of municipal school systems that would create a hardship to the Commissioners and to the Municipalities."
Mays spent several pages of his ruling dealing with the contention that the state law could possibly apply to other small counties in West Tennessee, notably Gibson County, which was the subject of two days of tedious courtroom hearings this summer. He concluded that plain words mean what they say.
He wrote: "In other words, courts must “interpret constitutional provisions in a principled way that attributes plain and ordinary meaning to their words and that takes into account the history, structure, and underlying values of the entire document.”
He relied on Black's Law Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary to make his points.
“Reasonable” is a common legal term that means “[f]air [or] proper . . . under the circumstances.” Black‟s Law Dictionary 1272 (Bryan A. Garner ed. 7th ed. 1999). “Rational” is defined as “[h]aving sound judgment; sensible.” XIII Oxford English Dictionary, at 291. “Pragmatic” means “practical; dealing with a practice; matter-of-fact.” XII Oxford English Dictionary, at 278. Together, these terms require courts to apply fair, sensible, and matter-of-fact readings to statutes."
"Theoretical, illusory, or merely possible considerations are distinguishable. See Farris, Theoretical is defined as “existing only in theory, ideal, or hypothetical.” XVII Oxford English Dictionary, at 901. “Illusory” means having “the quality of . . . tending to deceive by unreal prospects.” VII Oxford English Dictionary, at 662. “Possible” refers to that “which may come about or take place without prevention by serious obstacles.” XII Oxford English Dictionary, at 175. Together, these terms suggest that courts must refrain from statutory interpretations that are hypothetical, unreal, or face serious obstacles."
And finally, Mays wrote: "Applying reasonable, rational, and pragmatic rules, Chapter 905 does not and will not apply to Gibson County."
A former chief of aide to former Tennessee governor Don Sundquist, Mays was not fooled by the elaborate burlesque of the municipalities and their lawyers.
"There is in the history a sense of a wink and a nod, a candid discussion of the bill‟s purpose occasionally blurred by a third-party correction. The history is clear, however, that the bill never would have passed had it not been intended to apply only to Shelby County.
"Only Shelby County has undertaken the process set forth in Chapter 1. Chapter 905 establishes a series of conditions that have no reasonable application, present or potential, to any other county.
"Although general in form, Public Chapter 905 is local in effect. Because it does not include a provision for local approval, Chapter 905 is VOID under Article 11, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. All actions taken under the authority of Chapter 905 are VOID. The Municipalities are enjoined from proceeding under Chapter 905 to establish municipal school districts."
Related story: A Judicial Joke
New high schools, a massive parking garage at the airport, a parking garage at Overton Square, a boat landing, and now $12 million more in renovations and handicapped seating at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, which needs more seats of any kind like it needs a tornado or a power failure. There are two games left on the schedule in 2012 — the University of Memphis season-ender against Southern Mississippi Saturday and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in December. Take those two games, add the "crowds" at three or four more games, and you might, just might, fill the 61,000-seat stadium. Fudging attendance numbers is standard practice, but I was a bit shocked last year to see the full extent of the charade after the Division of Parks coughed up the numbers, which were barely half the "announced" figures.
The justification for spending another $12 million is the federal government's Justice Department and the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Having researched the subject five years ago when it came up in the last years of the Herenton administration, I was under the impression that additional seats had been added or were then in the process of being added, and the problem was no more. Several users of the handicapped seats told me as much. Either my sample was flawed or things have changed, because 288 seats and companion seats are on order.
In e-mails, Mayor A C Wharton and Housing and Community Development director Robert Lipscomb told me they cut the best deal they could with Justice, which initially recommended $40 million in improvements. Wharton did not dispute the fact that the stadium usually has thousands of empty seats, including many in the special sections, but figured he had to deal or risk litigation that would stall (as if it has not been stalled already) redevelopment of the Fairgrounds. Lipscomb cautioned that the enforcers at Justice are not to be taken lightly lest they decide to look askance at other proposals from Memphis.
"I am comfortable with the number we have reached," said Wharton. "By settling we control the number. Litigation would have been a costly crap shoot."
Added Lipscomb, "This brings to closure an argument that has gone on since 2005, dramatically improves our relationship and perception of the city from the perspective of the DOJ and other federal agencies with grant dollars, saves legal fees that have been accumulating over seven years, and allows the city to move forward with the Fairgrounds Plan."
What is missing in this account are the voices of the football fans using and not using the handicapped seats at the stadium. Are the improvements so far insufficient? In what way? Are there too few seats? Have people been turned away because of a seating shortage or an access problem? If so can it be remedied with something other than 280 new seats? It defies common sense that there is a seat shortage of any kind in a stadium that, on most of its nine event dates a year, has tens of thousands of empty seats. The biggest crowd last year, remember, was the Mississippi State game, which drew only 33,990. The season-ender barely drew 3,000. There isn't enough fabric to mask the empty seats and sections at a game like that.
The local government refrain is that the federal government is unyielding on this subject, so move on. Strange to hear that coming from career government employees. Why not invite Justice to send a team of lawyers to the Southern Miss game or the Liberty Bowl and see for themselves? A little PR never hurt. Put a name and a face and a comment for attribution on the person or people at DOJ who insist the funds must be spent, and make them explain why. The federal government, last time I read a newspaper, was in something of a budget crisis itself and throwing its weight around on empty football stadiums in Memphis and bullying public servants hardly seems a priority.
UTILIZATION. Remember that word. It's the key to the closing-schools story, the baffling airport expansion in the midst of Delta's contraction, and the threats to close libraries and golf courses. A public facility that is not being used to anywhere near its capacity but remains open in light of maintenance and staffing and ADA obligations is an expensive proposition for this city and its shrinking number of individual and corporate taxpayers. If you don't say "no more" here, where DO you say it? If you don't take this crap shoot, when do you take it? And if you pour another $12 million into a stadium that is barely used nine times a year, how do you tell the school board to close 21 schools that are used 180 days a year?
Whoa there, schools and stadiums are different budgets, some will say, apples and oranges. Actually, from a taxpayer's point of view it is all the same and the distinctions are lost.
Related story: Taking Liberty